Putting aside the fantastically confusing name change, Immortals Fenyx Rising has slipped right under the radar in what has been an eventful year for gaming. The game was officially announced as Gods and Monsters during E3 2019 with an early 2020 release window. This caused a lot of positive buzz at the time. Delayed late 2019 in part due to the slow performance of some front line Ubisoft titles, it targeted and eventually hit a (very) late 2020 release. Released on 3rd December 2020, it caught the first western winds of a new console era.
Immortals Fenyx Rising was developed by Ubisoft in their now famous Quebec studio. This was in fact done by the same talented team that poured their collective hearts and souls into Ubisoft’s 2018 hit Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Given that you would expect them to be very well versed in all things ancient Greece. Immortals Fenyx Rising is a classical action-adventure game in the widest sense and has over the top combat to boot. Playing as Fenyx, a Greek warrior, there is much swordplay, bow and arrow combat, and a range of godlike abilities to learn and use. All of it is heavily rooted in the Greek myths it tells. Anyone with even a basic knowledge of Greek mythology will get the jokes but there is a danger that without knowing something about the lore the player will be left behind. You get a who’s who of Greek legend thrown at you with almost alarming speed. The story begins with Zeus on a search for allies to resist an uprising of the Titans who have escaped from all the dark places he locked them up last time he defeated them. Typhon in particular is out for blood. The relationship between Zeus and the potential allies he meets are both particularly hilarious and there are hammer blows to the fourth wall that are worth the price of admission alone.
Before all of this gets going in earnest, the initial setup of Immortals Fenyx Rising allows you to do the standard next generation tweaks of the visual settings like high dynamic range and exposure values for those with the television hardware to show the game off to its fullest. Speaking of hardware, the game is available on the now very wide range of current devices: PC Windows, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Stadia, Xbox One and Xbox Series X and S. There is also a Graphic Mode that allows you to prioritise performance or quality of visuals. As it would suggest, the performance mode pushes the game’s framerate to a silky smooth 60 frames per second while the quality mode prioritises resolution and graphical fidelity at a lower frame rate.
The game is set up to use the performance mode as switching to the graphically focused mode requires you to restart the game. As these two directions for allocating system resources is a very personal choice, it is good to see developers continuing to offer gamers options. I for one do not find that framerate makes a massive difference to me outside of multiplayer shooters where every frame counts so I invariably bump these onto graphics to show off what the game can do visually. In the case of Immortals Fenix Rising I was on the fence as at first look the game does not look like it can have much to offer in the visual department. For the most part, it is a toony almost low poly representation of a Greek world. Ubisoft have also continued to include a fantastic array of accessibility options that should be important in allowing everyone to enjoy their games.
Immortals Fenyx Rising has five difficulty ratings; Story, Easy, Normal, Hard, and Nightmare. The last mode requires the player to complete the game at least once and is designed for what Ubisoft describes as seasoned players who are ready to be tested by enemies requiring the highest level of skill and strategy. The game’s difficulty at the start might make you think you have chosen badly - but it certainly ramps up as they throw in more mobs and harder enemies to fight. Once you unlock Nightmare mode, this mode turns off the very useful health regeneration and throws in even more deadly enemies. The game did not strike me as very difficult overall and its learning curve is certainly manageable. Within minutes of the very start of the game you are armed with the sword of Achilles and off you go light attacking anyone in your path. Your attacks are rapid and cut large arcs through enemy lines. An over exaggerated dodge mechanic, and a very directional parry and you can now defend yourself. Each further ability is linked to a world pickup - Atalanta’s axe, some wings that allow you to fly and so on. Within a very short time, you feel very well armed and at home in the world.
They do like to say that imitation is the highest form of flattery and Immortals Fenyx Rising certainly does everything in its power to flatter Nintendo’s 2017 blockbuster Zelda Breath of the Wild. From the look and feel of the grassy open environments, to the stamina based climbing or activity system, flashy enemies that explode when they die, item based abilities that once received are fully tested in a matching dungeon, and the combat system focusing on repetitive agile attacks the comparison is there for all to see. This was certainly the reaction when the game was first shown at E3. In Immortals Fenyx Rising these skill dungeons are slightly different in that they take place at first in a shadow realm called Tartarus. Ancient Greek buffs will know Tartarus to be the place Zeus banished the Titans after the great conflict between the Titans and the gods. But in terms of lifting these game play mechanics - I am not one to say that any step forward for gaming should be kept unique to that game series. How else can we enjoy new gameplay mechanics used in new and unique ways? Who is not interested to see how Ubisoft can take an idea and develop it in their own way and in their game?
Immortals Fenyx Rising takes that gameplay homage and builds on it in the surroundings of a rich mythical world. Even if Breath of the Wild passed you by, this accessible and charming game could be worth a look. This may well be the sleeper hit of this year.